Things to Do in Massachusetts
The Charles River meanders 80 miles (129 kilometers) through eastern Massachusetts, including Boston and Cambridge, before emptying into the Atlantic. The Charles, as it’s often called, plays a role in the daily lives of many Bostonians, especially walkers, joggers, cyclists, kayakers, and those who love to quietly relax by the water.
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial preserves a moment in history, when 17th-century residents of colonial Massachusetts tried and executed women and men accused of witchcraft. The site, a small grassy area surrounded by stone walls and locust trees, is just one of the many witchcraft hysteria attractions in the historical town of Salem.
Founded in 1848, the Boston Public Library contains over 23 million items, making it the second largest public library in the U.S., after the Library of Congress. Of those millions, about 1.7 million are rare books and works, including medieval manuscripts and incunabula (a book or pamphlet printed prior to 1501 in Europe). Among the rare books are also the personal library of John Adams, early editions of works by William Shakespeare, drawings from Thomas Rowlandson and musical archives from the Handel and Haydn Society.
The McKim Building, with its vast research collection, and the Johnson Building, where you can find the circulating collection, are two of the most important parts of the library. The McKim Building is even a National Historic Landmark. And while the library system technically includes a whopping 24 branches, the original Copley Square location offers plenty to see, including Bates Hall, the Chavannes Gallery, the Abbey Room and the Sargent Gallery.
The starting point of the Freedom Trail, Boston Common is the oldest park in the country. At 50 acres (20 hectares), it is the anchor for the Emerald Necklace, a system of connected parks that winds through many of Boston’s neighborhoods. The historic park was once a campground for British troops during the Revolutionary War.
Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood, the North End has been inhabited since the 1630s and is now the city’s Little Italy. Visit to see a variety of historical and cultural attractions, such as the Paul Revere House (the starting place of his famous “midnight ride” in 1775) and enjoy Italian-American fare.
Located in Cambridge, just north of Boston, Harvard University is synonymous with prestige and accomplishment. Known for a curriculum that challenges and inspires its students, this Ivy League university boasts over 45 Nobel Prize winners and eight US presidents, including Barack Obama, among its faculty and alumni.
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of the oldest continuously operating museums in America, established in 1799 as the East India Marine Society. It combines the collections of the Peabody Museum of Salem, who acquired the East India Marine Society in 1867, and the Essex Institute, who merged in 1992.
The Peabody Essex Museum collection dates back to the “natural and artificial curiosities” pieces that Salem-based members of the East India Marine Society brought back from beyond Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. The original PEM location was at the East India Marine Hall, which is still part of the Peabody Essex Museum today, as are many of the artifacts brought back in the society’s earliest days.
Today, the Peabody Essex Museum houses a vast collection showcasing artistic and cultural creativity from around the world. It is one of the top 20 art museums in the United States, and by 2019, is expected be one of the top 10 Art Museums in North America.
At the Salem Witch Museum, relive the tragic Salem witch trials of 1692 through a series of life-size stage sets. See and hear how neighbors turned against neighbors, and learn more about everyone involved. You’ll also get an overview of the evolving perception of witches throughout history.
Faneuil Hall is a bustling marketplace best known for its ever-changing lineup of street performers and its central location on Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. Tourists and locals alike flock to the complex’s shops and Quincy Market, featuring 30-plus food stalls selling everything from exotic coffee to fresh seafood and artisanal bread.
Newcomers to the city of Boston often refer to it as “the city of history” because while walking along the Freedom Trail, you encounter so many important historical points—points that were instrumental in the founding of America. It makes for an incredible walk through time, and one of the highlights on this Freedom Trail is a visit to the Massachusetts State House.
Built in 1788, the “new” Massachusetts State House is built across from the Boston Common on the top of Beacon Hill. Known far and wide for its gilded gold dome (it’s actually made of wood and copper, but topped with 24-karat gold), the State House symbolizes what the founding fathers had envisioned upon landing at Plymouth Rock – to build a city upon a hill. Inside, the working State House houses working government officials, beautiful murals depicting colonial times of war, spacious marble-filled corridors, and other historical items that reflect the heritage of the Boston area – a pinecone high atop the dome pays homage to Boston’s logging industry, and the “Sacred Cod” is a nod to the fishing industry—both paragons of the early industry that made Boston one of the most influential cities in America.
More Things to Do in Massachusetts
The main hub of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Quincy Market has attracted locals and visitors alike for nearly 200 years. The historic food hall located within a Greek Revival-style building is packed with more than 50 shops, 14 restaurants, and 40 food court stops—plus stalls and pushcarts selling everything from exotic coffee to fresh seafood and artisanal bread.
The Boston Public Garden is a 24 acre (10 hectare) botanical oasis of Victorian flowerbeds, verdant grass, and weeping willow trees shading a tranquil lagoon. At any time of the year, it is an island of loveliness, awash in seasonal blooms, gold-toned leaves, or untrammeled snow.
A statue of George Washington, looking stately atop his horse, greets visitors at the main entrance on Arlington Street. Other pieces of public art in the park, however, are more whimsical. The most endearing is Make Way for Ducklings, always a favorite with tiny tots who can climb and sit on the bronze ducks. But it’s the peaceful lagoon that draws visitors and locals a like to the Public Garden. For it is hear, you should take on the slow-going swan boats, a serene relic of bygone days.
Relive the events of December 16, 1773 at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. Located in Boston Harbor, this floating museum provides visitors with an immersive experience, complete with full-scale replica tea ships, live costumed actors, a multi-sensory documentary, interactive exhibits, historic artifacts, and more.
A depiction of Samantha, the character famous from the popular television showBewitched, this bronze statue was given to the city of Salem by the TV Land Network. As Salem is known for being the site of the Salem Witch Trials, the statue was a controversial topic when it was installed in 2005. Some viewed the placement of a fictional witch character as disrespectful to those who lost their lives nearby, while others saw it as an opportunity to revitalize interest in the area. The 1960s show filmed only two episodes in Salem.
The statue features actress Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of the show, as the character Samantha with a crescent moon and a broomstick. The director and many of the show’s cast members came to Salem to dedicate the statue in its new-found home. Many fans of the show come to pose for pictures with her, and it continues to add to the historic association of Salem with witchery. At nine feet tall, the statue has a larger-than-life scale.
Boston’s most cherished landmark isn’t Bunker Hill or the Tea Party Ships, but rather old Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. A must-see for sports enthusiasts as well as history and architecture buffs, Fenway Park is famous for its uniquely shaped playing field and towering left field wall known as the Green Monster.
The lively cultural hub of Cape Cod and among New England’s most beloved beach resorts, Provincetown’s popularity belies its small size and remote location. Perched at the tip of the Cape Cod peninsula and reachable by land or sea from nearby Boston, the affectionately nicknamed ‘P-Town’ is the ultimate bohemian retreat, renowned for its eclectic nightlife, numerous art galleries and thriving LGBT scene.
Long a favored summer retreat for artists and writers, the creative Mecca is also home to 30 miles of sandy coastline, with pristine beaches, calm swimming areas and waters ideal for fishing or whale watching cruises. Spend time exploring the myriad of shops, bars and restaurants along the central Commercial Street, take a scenic stroll along the picturesque MacMillan Pier or enjoy a catamaran cruise around landmarks like Plymouth Rock, before hitting the bars to experience Provincetown’s legendary nightlife.
Taking in 16 of Boston’s most famous cultural and historical sites, the 2.5-mile-long (4-kilometer) Freedom Trail winds through downtown Boston, from southerly Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park, to the Bunker Hill Monument on the north side of the Charles River. The red-brick path and its designated stops, including colonial-era churches, museums, and meeting houses, make for an excellent introduction to Boston and its role in the American Revolution and United States history.
Founded in 1660, the Granary Burying Ground is Boston’s third-oldest burial ground, and final resting site of some of the most famous Bostonians to ever walk the earth, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere, and five victims of the Boston Massacre. With as many as 2,345 graves, few cemeteries anywhere else in the world hold such a high percentage of notable people in such a small space, and for this reason it is routinely featured as a highlight along Boston’s famous Freedom Trail.
Still, there is something timeless about visiting historic cemeteries, and perhaps this is why so many choose to stroll the green lawns of Granary Burying Ground, thinking of the times before ours, and, perhaps, the time to come afterwards.
Notable burials among the Granary Burying Ground include John Hancock (a statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence), Samuel Adams (also a statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence), Paul Revere (civil war patriot), John Endecott (first Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony), Samuel Sewall (Salem Witch Trials Judge) and many others.
Also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, the Old Burying Point of Salem is the second oldest burying ground in the United States. It is estimated to date back to 1637. Victims of the infamous Salem With Trials were convicted nearby to the site. Jonathan Corwin and Jonathan Hawthorne, who were both Salem witch trial judges, are also buried here.
As Salem was once a major shipping port for “the New World,” this cemetery is particularly historic. A Mayflower pilgrim, one of the first to enter the United States, was claimed to be put to rest here. The grave of former governor Samuel Bradstreet can also be found. The old tombstones remain in tact and uniquely carved from the 1600s, presenting a bit of history that has been preserved since that time. A visit is an opportunity to learn about colonial era history, including burial practices and the lives of some of the important figures laid to rest here.
Please note: Old Burying Point (Charter Street Cemetery) will temporarily close for renovations during the spring of 2020.
Though recently rebranded as 200 Clarendon, this towering Boston structure was for decades known as the John Hancock Tower. The building soars nearly 800 feet above the city, and is not only Boston's tallest building but also the tallest building in all of New England.
The 62-story John Hancock Tower was built in 1976 as the home of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, but in 2004 the company moved to a different Boston location. The building is now officially known as Hancock Place.
It's a glass-covered skyscraper in the shape of a parallelogram rather than a square or rectangle, and the blue-tinted glass panels beautifully reflect the city and scenery around the tower. There is an observatory deck at the top of the John Hancock tower, but it has been closed to the general public since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The observation deck is available for private events, however.
Dating back to 1800, Charlestown Navy Yard was among the most prolific, historic, and vital navy yards in U.S. history. It served as the home of many of the nation's elite warships for the purposes of resupply, maintenance, retrofitting, and service.
The navy yard's most critical role was during America's two largest wars before it closed for good in 1974. From the beginning, Charlestown Navy Yard remained a pioneer of shipbuilding technology and served as a center for electronics and missile conversions. During its almost 175-year history, its staff constructed, christened, and launched over 200 ships and serviced thousands more.
After its closing, thirty acres of the yard were earmarked as part of Boston National Historical Park. Today, the U.S. National Park Service oversees this most critical portion of the shipyard. In addition, as part of their overall program, the USS Constitution and USS Cassin Young combine to represent Boston's rich, almost 200-year history of ship building.
As a bonus, the Boston Marine Society can also be found at Charlestown Navy Yard. Marine history buffs will appreciate this as the world's oldest association of sea captains, in operation since 1742. Admission is free and visitors are invited to stop by Building 32 – home to a noteworthy collection of historical art, artifacts and a small library of books.
Set on the 50th floor of Boston’s Prudential Tower, the Skywalk Observatory offers 360-degree views of the city and surrounding landscape. Here you can learn about notable landmarks, visit the onsite Dreams of Freedom Museum, or venture two floors up to enjoy a meal at the Top of the Hub Restaurant and Lounge.
Built in 1713, Boston's Old State House is the city’s oldest public building and considered pivotal to prerevolutionary US history. Dwarfed by Boston’s skyscrapers and a fixture on its revolution-tracing Freedom Trail, the onetime government building is now a museum to the city’s revolutionary era and the events that kindled the American Revolution.
Home to the Massachusetts State House, Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood is reminiscent of 19th-century London—replete with cobbled streets, brownstone buildings, and flower-filled window boxes. At night, gas lanterns flicker to life and create a romantic atmosphere for fine dining and bar-hopping.
- Things to do in Boston
- Things to do in Salem
- Things to do in New York
- Things to do in Pennsylvania
- Things to do in Quebec
- Things to do in Long Island
- Things to do in Brooklyn
- Things to do in New York City
- Things to do in Philadelphia
- Things to do in Montreal
- Things to do in Ontario
- Things to do in South Carolina
- Things to do in Illinois
- Things to do in Tennessee
- Things to do in Georgia